America's Christ in Gettysburg

On November 19, 1863, amid air faintly fetid from thousands of corpses waiting to be reburied, Edward Everett delivered a two-hour oration at the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery. The event, which drew some 15,000, had the feel of a modern rock concert. Everett, a former statesman and college president, and among the preeminent orators of his day, recounted the monumental three-day battle that had left 50,000 dead, wounded, or missing. He ended his speech by referring to the Union dead as “martyr-heroes” and declaring that Gettysburg, already viewed as turning point, would become the “brightest page” in America’s history.

President Lincoln then spoke. Since he had been asked to provide only “a few appropriate remarks,” people expected a short speech. Still, they were unprepared for his brevity. Indeed, several photographers failed to get an image, and the only known shot of Lincoln was hastily taken and blurry; it shows him in the center of the crowd, head down and hatless as he reads his address.

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